Former San Jose official reflects on the childhood that changed him
Former San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones looks back on how his upbringing formed the decisions he made as a city councilmember. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Chappie Jones, former vice mayor of San Jose, grew up on a redlined street in Sacramento, a street informally designated for Black residents, while the remaining streets in the area were not. Today the homes on his childhood street are valued lower than homes on other streets nearby. This basic inequality, rooted in racism, gave Jones profound insight into the housing and economic issues that defined his time on the City Council.

    “In terms of creating generational wealth and opportunities, things stood in the way,” Jones told San Jose Spotlight. “All of those things revolve around how we address the housing issue.”

    By his account, Jones was born in the right place at the right time. The location of his childhood home helped define the opportunities he encountered growing up. He went to more integrated schools and socialized with more affluent peers, compared to residents living on the literal other side of the train tracks.

    And just as in Sacramento decades ago, segregated housing in San Jose is connected to economic disparities.

    “All roads lead to housing,” Jones said. “The housing issue, the housing crisis, the housing shortage, felt like it was driving everything else, whether it’s health, economic opportunity or the environment.”

    On Jones’ street lived Black doctors, lawyers, politicians and teachers, in addition to blue-collar workers. His childhood friend Alfonso Love, a retired fire captain, said being surrounded by a variety of Black leaders made a clear impression on children living on that street that their futures were unlimited.

    “We had all walks of life: you had the working class and you had the upper crust, so you felt like there was nothing you couldn’t do,” Love told San José Spotlight. “It was a great experience, probably the best childhood you could ever imagine.”

    Growing up in a place where one is able to experience these types of lifestyles is important to helping kids succeed, he added.

    “The reason we had the success we had is because of our exposure,” Love said. “You didn’t necessarily think about it. There was no barrier, you had no concept of not being able to excel, it just wasn’t there, because you saw everyone else excel… It’s absolutely essential.”

    Kelli Jones, Chappie’s wife, said his family placed a high value on education. Chappie’s mother and older sister each earned three master’s degrees and a doctorate degree. Chappie’s mother, Marguerite Jones, completed her doctorate program in library science when she was in her 60s.

    “There was an expectation that you don’t just meet the minimum,” Kelli told San José Spotlight. “You exceed what’s expected of you.”

    Jones studied economics at UC Davis before earning his MBA at UC Berkeley, where he and Kelli met. Prior to running for San Jose City Council, he was president of their Murdock neighborhood association, served on several city committees and had been part of the District 1 leadership group, Kelli said.

    Jones also worked for a small business and started his own, which helped him understand the impact of local establishments on the community.

    “It may or may not be obvious, but being a minority and particularly an African-American, trying to build and establish a business can be a bit of a challenge,” Kelli said. “He wanted to try to remove some of those barriers, to improve that visibility and make sure some of those opportunities are available.”

    It framed how he voted on the city council. When issues of economic opportunity came before the city, sometimes he breached his usual patterns. Often known as an ally to former Mayor Sam Liccardo, Jones went against big developers when he voted to delay rezoning the land beneath the Berryessa Flea Market, trying to protect the market’s hundreds of entrepreneurs.

    The ability to see nuances, and to genuinely appreciate both sides of an issue, drew former San Jose City Councilmember Johnny Khamis to Jones. For example, Jones voted to approve rent control, despite being a landlord at the time.

    “He voted for rent control anyway, because he wanted to bring people together,” Khamis said. “He angered people on both sides, so I guess that when you anger people on both sides, you’re doing the right thing.”

    Jones hasn’t decided his next move, but whatever it is, it is certain to grant him peace.

    “I’m 62 years old, and I feel like I still have a lot to offer,” he said. “I’m in the last quarter of my life, and I want to do something that’s going to bring me joy, that’s going to bring me fulfillment and that’s not going to stress me out.”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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